UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

English-Canadian poetry, 1935-1955: a thematic study Harder, Helga Irene


That period in Canada, between 1935 and 1955, which encompasses a pre-war depression, a world war, a post-war period of disillusionment, and the beginning of a time of affluence and intellectual expansion, has left an impressive fund of poetry recording the emotional response of Canadians to the turbulence of these years. At the beginning of this period, the poetry is asserting its independence from the derivative poetry of the earlier Canadian poets, and the end of the period, has already introduced the new mythopoeic mode which dominates the recent literary scene. The major themes of the poetry of this period are directly related to the historical events of the time. In Chapter I, the poetry of social protest is examined in detail. A group of exclusively critical poems, unexperimental in technique, is balanced by a group of more sympathetic ones, employing more of the characteristics of the new poetry. Many poems of social protest indicate an enduring hope for a better future, but those poems dominate this tradition, which incorporate a decidedly revolutionary program. The ultimate solution, however varying the degrees of action may be, is man's own responsibility. Chapter II presents poems inspired by World War II. The initial distrust of the war is replaced by despair. The loss of love, life, security, and meaning is explored in introspective, sensitive poems, as concerned with the emotions on the battlefield, as those in the empty home. The hope for a better future is found in love, courage, or endurance, and the final victory evokes both faith and distrust in its reality. The psychological interest in the individual in a postwar world has produced a number of poems examined in Chapter III. By this time, the poets are already employing new forms with comparative freedom, and this poetry reflects the flexibility demanded by an interest in the complexities of human psychology. The tensions between the need for people, and the need to be alone are as convincingly presented as those between the desire to be loved, and the desire to be independent. The tedium of daily existence creates its peculiar cyclic metaphor, manipulated by many of the poets in a variety of ways. The psychology of abnormality preoccupies a few poems, but a fairly general statement of faith in humanity is characteristic of all of this work. In this chapter, the psychological responses in several of Pratt's poems are examined, along with a brief discussion of his relationship to the rest of the Canadian poetry. Chapter IV examines the poetry which very definitely uses myth as structure, and discusses, very briefly, the mythopoeic poetry after 1955. The favourite structural myth, the fertility cycle, is accompanied by the various aspects of the quest myth. A curiously ironical inversion of the apocalyptic vision indicates that the Canadian mythopoeic poets cannot be expected to be conventional. This study leads to the ultimate conclusion that the Canadian poetry of this twenty year period is a related, but disunified group of fragments, directly connected with the chronological events of the period, but never merging into a clear stream of poetry which flows through these years. The chief reasons for this are explored in the conclusion. A. selective bibliography of the poetry published in Canada between 1935 and 1955 is appended.

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